« iPod Sound Systems | Main | What's wrong with the iPhone »

December 30, 2007

Casio Pathfinder PAW 1300T7

Used to be if you wanted a rugged watch for hiking or diving, you paid a lot of money for it. Now the Rolex Explorers, Omega Speedmasters, and Tag Heuer Aquaracers mostly hang from the wrists of folks who want to look outdoorsy but would never expose their shiny timepieces to the elements. Nothing wrong with that, it's just the way some products go upmarket over time. And it makes sense in a world where you can buy attractive, durable, and supremely functional digital watches for less than what it costs to get a mechanical Swiss watch cleaned and tuned by your friendly neighborhood horologist.

Casio has been in the outdoor digital watch space for decades. Their watches have been to the ends of the Earth, had the crap knocked out of them, and still did their job. The company's terrestrial line is called Pathfinder and they are probably the most fully featured wrist-worn instruments you can buy.

I tested the top-shelf Pathfinder PAW-1300T-7V with the titanium bracelet. This year's Pathfinders are much thinner and more comfortable than previous models in the line, yet none of their legendary features or durability have been sacrificed. The watch runs on a rechargeable battery that is constantly topped up by a solar cell. Even in total darkness, it'll stay accurate for many months on a charge.

Far more than a watch
This watch is really far more than a watch. It has a receiver for the time signals transmitted over most of the world from atomic clock installations such as the one in Fort Collins, Colorado that serves the continental US. Four times a day, it checks the signal and adjust as necessary so you always have the exact time. So called "atomic" watches are the most accurate portable timepieces you can buy.

Now that you know the exact time, how about the direction you are traveling, the altitude, the temperature, and a weather forecast? This Pathfinder has a digital compass, an altimeter, a thermometer, and a barometer. The compass can be easily adjusted for magnetic declination, bidirectional calibration, and northerly calibration for absolute accuracy. You can even set a bearing to guide your way through the wilderness.

The altimeter does a remarkably good job using air pressure and temperature to give a reading. It can measure your ascent/descent over time, displaying the data in a graph. You can see the highest and lowest you've been over a period of time and set an altitude differential. A variety of display options make this feature easy to love.

Perhaps the most useful of the non-timekeeping features is the barometer/thermometer mode. The sensors work in tandem to not only give you a reading of current conditions but also tracks the data constantly no matter what foreground mode the watch is in. You can quickly check a graph from the main time display that shows the weather trend over the recent past. If the line is heading down fast, sailors take warning. If it's headed up, put away your rain gear and slap on some sunscreen.

And, of course, this remarkable device does more: world time, countdown timer, stopwatch, and alarms. It is waterproof to 100 meters -- not water resistant, waterproof as in fall-out-of-the-boat-into-the-lake. It has an electroluminescent display that can be activated with a tap of a button or set to automatically come on for two seconds when you flip your wrist to see the watch face.

Perpetual motion machine (almost)
Considering that this instrument runs on solar power for years and does so much, it's practically a perpetual motion machine. You can get this watch with a resin, canvas, or titanium band so prices range from $300 to $350. I recommend getting the titanium band, as it will not only last forever but looks as good as any multi-thousand dollar Swiss sport watch and works better than any metal band I've ever used. I once had to return a $2000 Breitling Aerospace three times in two years to have the titanium band repaired under warranty. I got so tired of this that after the last repair, I sold the watch and gave up on Breitling forever. The Casio bracelet design feels better, locks more securely, and the workmanship is flawless.

This Casio Pathfinder takes almost nothing from me yet gives back more than any other sport watch I've ever used.

~David MacNeill

Posted by dtm at December 30, 2007 07:05 PM